To Be Young, Gifted and a Black Anteater

A fraternity's blackface video just scratches the surface of the long-standing hostility toward African-American students at UC Irvine

On a late Monday afternoon, young men and women fill rows of folding chairs at a Black Student Union (BSU) meeting in the Cross-Cultural Center at UC Irvine. They raise their hands and speak one by one.

"My friend and I were called 'nigger bitches' at a party," says a curvy girl in a yellow polka-dot dress. Groans erupt throughout the room.

"People in my dorm say I only got into this school because I'm an athlete," another member says.

UCI's Black Student Union and allies at a recent protest
Eric Hood
UCI's Black Student Union and allies at a recent protest
Kala Lacy: "UCI, I am tired of you ignoring me!"
Eric Hood
Kala Lacy: "UCI, I am tired of you ignoring me!"

A student notes the incidents on a rolling whiteboard as more hands rise.

"This guy I know was at the library, and some people came up to him and said, 'I'll give your monkey-ass a year,'" a young woman shares.

The chatter becomes louder.

"Outside the [gym], someone yelled, 'nigger' out of a car, then drove away," a man reveals.

"That happened to me, too!" another student chimes in.

BSU co-chairperson Kala Lacy stands beside the growing list, gently rubbing her fingertips against the pendant on her necklace, a soft piece of leather cut into the shape of Africa. A petite 20-year-old with perfectly curled eyelashes and big, rounded hair reminiscent of Angela Davis, she listens as more stories dart from the crowd.

"Someone wrote 'nigger' on my door."

"A fraternity held a 'Rastafari Safari.'"

"On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a dining hall served chicken and waffles."

"They sell Afros in the bookstore."

The last one triggers a discussion about why this is wrong. Afro wigs were being sold to fans as a nod to UCI star basketball player Michael Wilder, an African-American student with a hairstyle out of the American Basketball Association.

"You can buy blackness!" Lacy proclaims in a sarcastic, faux-TV-commercial voice. "Put it on! Take it off!" She poses in the manner of a The Price Is Right model, holding the grand prize.

"It reminds me of a saying," adds Zahra Ahmed, a UCI staff member. "'Everybody wants to be us, but don't nobody wanna be us.'"

"Mm-hmm!" a few girls yell out.

Ahmed continues. "For those who are privileged enough to benefit from the oppression of others, they can buy this Afro wig and put it on and identify superficially with this black man, but at the same time, they can dress in blackface and do drive-by N-words because when it comes to the reality of everyday life, don't nobody wanna be black!"

About 50 BSU members are making final preparations for a campus protest, at which they plan to display the whiteboard filled with acts of ignorance and racism committed against them at UCI for all the school to see. The timing is critical—they need to get this out soon, while people are still talking about recent events. Days earlier, on April 24, a music video had surfaced on Facebook showing four members of the school's oldest Asian-American fraternity, Lambda Theta Delta, dancing and lip-synching to Justin Timberlake's hit song "Suit and Tie." One of them had his face covered in black makeup to portray hip-hop titan Jay-Z.

The student's use of blackface, one of the most destructive and painful offenses against people of African descent, made national headlines and sparked major damage control on campus, with everyone and anyone at UCI trying to distance themselves from the fiasco. Lambda Theta Delta immediately apologized for the video, calling it a "grave mistake of a few members," and suspended itself for a year. In a video released to UCI students, vice chancellor Thomas Parham proclaimed, "It is important that each of you know that incidents like this, while rare, do stand in sharp contrast to the values, virtues and the principles of the university."

Yet two weeks after the video emerged, a UCI freshman received a note in her backpack that read, "Go back 2 Africa slave."

Lacy has come to despise the word "rare."

"It's completely offensive!" she says. "To say that it's a rare occurrence totally ignores the experience of black students on this campus. It's erasing an entire lifetime at UCI."

Using the recent, highly publicized incidents as a platform, black students express anger, fear and frustration over what they believe is an anti-black campus climate. While they say racism isn't unique to UCI, the numbers add strain—African-Americans make up just 2.6 percent of a student population of more than 27,000, in a county where African-Americans make up 2.1 percent of 3.1 million residents. Armed with a megaphone, they're pushing for policy changes, added curriculum and programming, and more accountability from the university.

But more than anything, they want someone to listen.

*     *     *

On a Facebook page called UCI Secrets, students can post anonymous thoughts and opinions on just about anything—secret crushes, sexual identity, drunken escapades. Often, the ramblings gravitate toward issues of race. One student, who identifies as half-black, responded to the outcry over the blackface video, writing, "Seriously, people, at what point will putting on brown face paint stop being offensive and just become one person not endowed with dark skin trying to look like someone who is? Will no non-black person ever be able to impersonate a black person simply because doing so was a derogatory act nearly a century ago? Or does the entire human race have to consult the history books every time we make a joke or do anything publicly?"

These days, college students have become notorious for playing with racial taboos through parties themed after cultural stereotypes. "Ghetto fabulous" galas, such as the infamous 2010 "Compton Cookout" at UC San Diego, come complete with fake teeth grills, do-rags, butt pads and gang signs, while Mexican-mocking affairs showcase girls feigning pregnancies and guys in border patrol uniforms.

"Racism is not new," says Tamara Storey, UCI's senior student-affairs specialist."There is a gray area that is coming up now that makes it seem new. We have lots of artists using the word 'nigger.' We have lots of students using it just as another word. So students don't know. They're wondering, 'Should I use it? Is it okay to use it? Can I use it if I'm black? Can I use it if I'm not black?'

"If I didn't know the history of blackface, I might think it's tacky, but not racist," Storey adds. "We need to figure out how to educate our culture. How do we change the climate that says this is okay?"

This education process often begins with black students themselves. For many, college is an opportunity to explore and connect with a heritage they may have only read a few pages about in their high school history books or celebrated once a year during February. And if the black students themselves know little about the historical context of their culture, imagine going to a school populated by kids with no clue whatsoever.

That's what Lacy encountered upon enrolling at UCI. Growing up in a mostly white neighborhood in San Diego, Lacy often felt isolated. Classmates taunted her with racist remarks—she remembers one student telling her she was only good for shaking her ass or picking cotton—and she let them. "I couldn't explain the different feelings I felt," she says, speaking calmly while softly rubbing her right arm. She sits on a campus bench next to her backpack, speckled with buttons: "I heart being black," "Stop Racism" and "This Revolution Will Not Be Privatized."

"It was like, 'I know I'm angry, but I'm not exactly sure why.' I know what they said is messed up, but I don't really have the words to explain why that wasn't right."

Lacy says a black community was something she was looking for in potential colleges, and "I really liked what I saw at UCI." But when she arrived at the university, subtle stereotyping popped up everywhere. People would come up to her and touch her hair without asking, or they would ask if she could teach them how to dance. "Someone I've never met before just assumed I was sassy," she adds. "They were like, 'I've never met sassy black Kala.' And I was like, 'I have never met you before. Where are you getting that idea from?' It was just different things like that all the time. People would change their language around me, saying, 'Hey, girl, wassup?'"

One day, while waiting at the bus stop underneath the bridge on Campus Drive, a white woman who may or may not have been a UCI student started firing racial slurs at her: "nigger bitch," "nigger slut" and "Go back to your nigger pimp." With other students standing nearby and staring silently, Lacy didn't know how to react. "Things go through your mind like, 'Okay, well, fight her. Make her hurt how you're hurting right now,'" she says. "But being a black student, you understand what happens when you're the body that's making violence happen."

Lacy found comfort in the school's BSU, as members shared similar stories and frustrations. "That's when I felt like I wasn't so different, like I wasn't crazy to be mad at all these people who had done me wrong," she says. She started taking African-American studies courses, where she gained an academic vocabulary for discussing issues of race, and she eventually took on the role of BSU co-chairperson alongside her friend, Ainaria Johnson. Standing up for the black community has become her mission.

"This is more of a chance for me to say the things I didn't get to say when I was growing up," she says. "I'm in a much better place because I have the language, I have the history, I have the means. It's almost sort of a redemption for high school Kala, who never said anything."

*     *     *

The music video featuring four members of Lambda Theta Delta was created as a promotion for the fraternity's annual event celebrating the entrance of new brothers. It was uploaded to YouTube with the disclaimer "No racism intended. All fun and laughter."

When Lacy saw the video, she says she was "surprised, but not surprised." She immediately contacted her fellow BSU board members. "I was like, 'When are we meeting to discuss what we need to do?'" she recalls. "I knew this was one that we couldn't just let slide by."

Before the video could go viral, Lambda Theta Delta posted a lengthy apology to its Facebook page, stating, "The collective house is aware of the great ignorance of the video as it perpetuates a gravely offensive stereotype against African-Americans. . . . We apologize for its creation as well as any mental anguish the production has caused to the community. . . . Regardless of the circumstances, the video proves the existence of racism and ignorance today."

A week later, before an investigation by the university had been completed, the fraternity announced it would suspend its status as a UCI organization until fall 2014.

UCI vice chancellor Thomas Parham applauds the fraternity's quick apology and self-imposed suspension. "This particular group of men had a choice," he says. "They could have engaged in denial or gotten defensive and tried to rationalize their behavior, or they could have said nothing. But they stood up like men and apologized for their actions."

Parham (who's African-American) maintains that events such as the blackface video and hateful note found in a student's backpack are "deplorable," but he insists they're rare at UCI—and that the BSU is exaggerating the atmosphere on campus. "Those incidents can paint with a broad brush this institution as a hotbed of racism when it's not. . . . Not everyone thinks with the same mind and agrees with the same position. Many black students are having good experiences at this university."

The vice chancellor, who attended UCI as a student in the 1970s, says, "Diversity has been the hallmark of the campus experience for decades." Nearly 70 percent of the student body is made of people of color. (Asian-Americans make up 49 percent.) The school was the first in the University of California system to establish a Cross-Cultural Center, which has become a model for campuses across the country. There are diversity symposiums, workshops, support groups and festivals.

"Listen, I grew up in the shadows of [Martin Luther] King [Jr.] and Malcolm [X]," he says. "I grew up marching for equality. I fought this struggle. I get it. I didn't just become not-black yesterday because I became an administrator. I don't deny that the incident existed. I don't deny the authenticity of the pain. But what we can't do is insulate students from every single incident or act of racial insensitivity. I can't control the fact that a fraternity would make an insensitive video."

Still, BSU members want the university to be held accountable. As far back as 1989, in a Los Angeles Times article tellingly titled "Why Some Blacks Feel Locked Out at UC Irvine," black students were complaining about an anti-black attitude on campus. The current BSU's demands for zero tolerance against discrimination and violence, an official punitive policy for future transgressions against the black community, and the establishment of an official African-American studies department, are virtually the same as those from students 24 years ago.

"It's so easy for people to say, 'forgive and forget' when no one has to deal with the violence except for us," Lacy says. "As a community, we're really over it, and we shouldn't have to be dealing with this anymore. We don't want to be the only ones fighting our battle the next time around."

*     *     *

It's lunch time at UCI, and BSU members are standing in silence in the middle of Ring Road, the school's bustling walkway. They're dressed in all black, and taped to each of their shirts is a sheet of white paper declaring a personal statement.

"Being black at UCI means I can't wear hoop earrings without being called 'ghetto,'" one reads.

"Being black at UCI means not being acknowledged by the faculty within your graduate program," reads another.

The whiteboard from the previous night rests under a tree. A handful of passersby stop to find out what's going on.

One BSU member tells an Asian student about the blackface video. "That's offensive?" the student asks.

Another young man on a scooter glides past the rally and yells, "So dramatic!"

Wearing a camouflage army jacket and combat boots, Lacy takes the megaphone. The loudspeakers screech before she begins to yell all the things she's wanted to say.

"UCI, I am tired of you ignoring me," she screams. "UCI, I am tired of you letting this violence happen. UCI, I am tired of you just walking past me and just watching me suffer. UCI, I should not be afraid to go to class for fear that someone will wonder why I am there. UCI, it should not be acceptable for 30 students to watch me be racially harassed at a bus stop. UCI, you are not allowed to touch my hair. UCI, I am tired of having to prove myself to you. UCI, I am just as valuable as you."

Her hand clenches into a fist. "UCI, we are tired! We are tired of having to fight every day. Do you hear me? We are tired! We are tired!"

She lowers the megaphone and begins to sob, her sunglasses masking her eyes. Two girlfriends comfort her.

"It's just something really heavy to carry," Lacy says, her voice calm once again. "Even though we're supposed to be out here strong, it's very real. People can walk by, they can read the signs, and they can forget about it, but this is something that's on our shoulders, on our mind all the time. And it gets really difficult to handle sometimes. It's knowing that after this is all done, I'm still gonna have to carry this—the community is still gonna have to carry this."

As the protest goes on, black students stand in the center of the pathway, arms linked, forming a chain.

In unison, they chant, "While there is racism, we will not rest!"

They wait for someone to stop and listen.

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15 comments
sweetliberty17761776
sweetliberty17761776 topcommenter

I love the


I only got in b/c I am an athlete as grounds for suing/moaning/crying/punishing for free speech



Federale
Federale topcommenter

Well the author said that blacks have problems at UCI, but from the statistics she sites, blacks at UCI 2.6% and OC black population 2.1%, that proves that blacks are over represented at UCI.

Also, she is only able to site only one racist incident that is verifyable, the Asian frat video. So, what happened to the arguement that only whites can be racist?

The other queation is why did this Angela Davis wannabe attend a university with so fee blacks?

And does she think more black centric curriculum and programming will help her get a real job? I don't think Google or Apple have any need for those with Afro-centric degrees.

heyward_justin
heyward_justin

Reposted by popular demand. 

In the article "To Be Young, Gifted and a Black Anteater", it quoted one person's grievance of "non-blacks imitating black speech", and then OC Weekly goes on to entitle this article "Where the Black people at?"

Excuse me, but isn't this also imitating black speech? Shame on you OC Weekly for your racism by imitating black speech. I think a public apology is in order. 

fretsward
fretsward

I'm assuming that with the surname Woo, you are of Chinese decent. As the pot referring to the kettle as black, I expected some journalistic research. 

From West Asia to China the land was occupied predominately by Blacks. The blacks left East and Southeast Asia by the expansion of Thai, Annamite, Bak and Hua Mongoloid. The blacks ruled China until around 1000-700 BC. After 5000 BC, African people from Kush began to enter China and Central Asia from Iran, while another groups reached China by sea.

In Northern China Africans founded many civilizations. The three major empires of China were the Xian Dynasty (1900-1700 BC), Shang/Yi Dynasty (1700-1050 BC) and the Zhou Dynasty. The Zhou Dynasty was the first dynasty founded by the Mongoloid people in China. The Xia and Shang dynasties were founded by black tribes in ancient China. The key to understanding Chinese civilization is to remember the fact that both Xia, Yi and Shang came from similar ancestors. Those same ancestors were theYi and Xia people who occupied ancient North America. Many settled in what is now Mexico and the Southwestern United States.

http://www.trinicenter.com/FirstChinese.htm

In Honor of the Little Black People, Taipei Times http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/feat/archives/2004/11/27/2003212815

If you actually did your research, you would know the first people in Britain were black people. The historical and literary traditions of Wales reflect these findings. According to Gwyn Jones (perhaps the world's leading authority on the subject), to the Welsh chroniclers, the Danes coming in by way of England and the Norwegians by way of Ireland were pretty well all black: 

Black Gentiles, Black Norsemen, Black Host. There is the example, the legend of the mysterious African sea-rovers, the Fomorians, who had a stronghold on Torrey Island, off the Northwest Coast. The Fomorians, shrouded deep in mist, came to be regarded as the sinister forces in Irish mythology. The originals were called the Grimaldies. It was only three thousand years ago that the white man became the dominant type in an African-owned Europe. Before that it was people who migrated from African. For more than 58,000 years Africans were the only Europeans. Europe was discovered and mapped by Africans. Europe of yesterday, today and tomorrow will ever remain Africa’s heritage. Many thousands of years before the rise of the current pale tribes of Europe, the Grimaldi people established the Aurignacian cultures. These people were anatomically modern human beings of the West African typology. They brought the first indications of cultural thoughts and rites into Europe.

The Grimaldi had very little body hair, black and smooth skin; they had the facial features typical of West African forest dwellers. They had curly hair. They arrived in Europe 40,000 to 70,000 years ago. Caucasians as a racial entity did not appear in Europe until about twenty to thirty thousand years after the arrival of the first Africans who by this very fact are the aboriginals of Europe. It is conceded by scholars that the African people were the bearers of the first substantive elements of culture into the European continent. 

And on this continent, people depicted on the stone heads unearthed in Mexico were not Asians who crossed the Bearing Strait or Siberian icemen who migrated from Europe. Jose Maria Y Serrano upon excavating one of the monolith heads in this region of San Andres Tuxtla, published a short passage in the bulletin of the Mexican Geographical Statistical Society: In 1939, Dr. Matthew Sterling led a joint team from the National Geographic Society into the Gulf of Mexico to spearhead a major digging operation in Vera Cruz to unearth the monolith heads. Sterling concluded: "The features are bold and amazingly Negroid in character." The archaeological and cultural data overwhelmingly confirms the depiction of Negroid faces. Further archaeological evidence of the Negroid in ancient America is found in the Monte' Alban culture which began at the end of the Olmec culture cycle. In Monte' Alban, 180 Negroid figures have been discovered. Upon archaeological research, there is no logical denying of the 'negroidness' found in the art of ancient America. Archaeologists have indeed confirmed these facts.

Skeletons have also been unearthed in pre-Columbian layers in the valley of the Pecos River that flows through Texas and New Mexico and empties into the Rio Grande in the Gulf of Mexico. Professor Hooton, a physical anthropologist concluded: "The Pecos skull resemble most closely the cranial of Negro groups coming from Africa where Negroes commonly have some perceptible infusion of Hamatic blood." Professor Hooton refers to Hamatic blood as is the blood of the Negroid, since Ham (Shemites) were of the dark seed which were forbidden to interbreed with the Canaanites. The word "Ham" translates as "black" in biblical Aramaic. Finds like these in addition to the Negroid style heads forces us to consider the parallels between ancient America and Africa. Archaeologist concluded that the Olmecs who sculptured these monoliths have been shown to be absolute masters of realistic portraiture and did not arrive at the distinctive these features by accident. It is also noted that there could not possibly be a coincidence of stylization of a distinct people with facial features and characteristics, which separates them from the features and characteristics of all other races on the planet. 

The manner in which you write is reserved for a dumbed-down readership. 

Over 55% of the Melanin Rich (black) population on the continent is black (Moorish) Native Americans. How is it that the revisionists always mention the fact that Euro-Americans and American Indians mixed, and that the Euro-Americans mixed with the Moors, but they purposely never mention the origin of the American Indian? How is it that an entire race of people‚Äôs (American Indian‚Äôs) lineage has not been traced to its origin? In order to investigate the true origin of the American Indian you must begin with the Ancient Olmecs. The Olmecs were the first to inhabit what is currently known as Central and South America, and was domiciled in this area from 1500 B.C. to about 300 A.D. The Olmecs were responsible for the first Step Pyramid erected in the Americas. In the book entitled They Came Before Columbus: The African Presence In Ancient America by Ivan Van Sertima. I quote this statement verbatim: ‚ÄúThe very first American Pyramid or Stepped Temple appears at La Venta, the site colossal Negroid Heads and the steel on which is carved the Mediterranean type figure with bread and turned up shoes.‚ÄĚ The Olmecs are of the Negroid persuasion and hail out of Ancient Uganda (Northeast Central Africa). Their arrival preceded the Continental Drift which occurred thousands of years ago. Often in schools teachers show the students the way the Continents fit together like a puzzle, and explains that the continents were at one point one landmass. In this era the Negroid was able to roam freely and establish settlements and trade throughout the ‚Äúworld.‚ÄĚ These wooly-haired dark skinned people were the original inhabitants of the Americas. And you guys have the temerity to write the risible piece "Where the Black People At in OC," when you have to dig deeper and discover it is also you.¬†

However, if you were truly a journalist, you could have written about this instead of what I consider adolescent pap...

OCWeeklyComments
OCWeeklyComments

Its a popular narrative that UCI, Irvine and Orange County is hostile to blacks, but it isn't necessarily true. While there is the rare incident (there is no denying this unfortunateness), it isn't any more than any other race experiences. Having always lived among truly diverse groups, the more sensitive and insular the minority of any type grew up, the more sensitive they are to "racism".

Most people grow up around people of the same race and social economic status and UCI, Irvine and Orange County is bound to be different, given the diversity, especially for blacks who are smallest racial group in California. And in there is the recipe for cultural miscommunication. Also having attended black majority inner city schools, the BSU (who's existence is puzzling since again blacks were the majority), will find any reason to make something out of nothing because that is the habit the BSU learned from the civil rights movement...which ended four decades ago.

Brainwashed_in_church
Brainwashed_in_church topcommenter

According to a recent student survey, less than 0.79% of African American students at UCI actually feel significant racial discomfort. When asked whether they have ever experienced racial insensitivities, only three black students (out of 377 surveyed) felt the the discomfort was "severe to extreme".

JGlanton
JGlanton topcommenter

@City_Data_Forum  Interesting. The OCWeekly racebaiting again? And what is the discomfort rate for Jewish students? Will that get a story?

GustavoArellano
GustavoArellano moderator editortopcommenter

@JGlanton Race-baiting? How? And we did the UCI Jewish story a couple of years back, but don't let facts get in the way of your stupidity!

koreole
koreole

This country is going to hell. When regular joes like you hold similar views to that of white nationalist how long before we see a furher?

heyward_justin
heyward_justin

@JGlanton

Why waste your breath? People like @DeborahKLA and Gustavo are complete racists hiding behind a thin veneer of ideological dogma in order to push their own race agenda, like La Raza!. Now there's a real winner, LOL.

JGlanton
JGlanton topcommenter

@DeborahKLA  Listen to yourself "something needs to be done to stop it". Yeah, we need thought police to save the 0.79% of kids who complain about other kids. Where's your sense of history, your sense of countries where everyone was told to think alike? Bizzaro world, I suppose. What I hear is that it is racist to be against Obamacare, racist to be against more taxes, racist to be against planned parenthood, racist to be against foodstamp promotion campaigns; hell, at OCWeaknees it's racist to eat the wrong mexican food because only stupid white people do that. Or so I hear.

DeborahKLA
DeborahKLA

@JGlanton @GustavoArellanoFor goodness' sake, wake up and smell the coffee, Glanton. I'm a Caucasian Jewish woman, aged 55, and I'm sickened by the level of racism I've witnessed since President Obama was elected, when it suddenly became "okay" for middle-class white people to use the "n" word again. I'm disgusted to hear that this is taking place at a major university and you should be too. To hell with your excuses; they don't change the fact that this is happening, and something needs to be done to stop it.

JGlanton
JGlanton topcommenter

@GustavoArellano  You're in it so deep you can't even see it. That survey makes UCI one the least racist places on the planet. Made even more amazing by the fact that it is a place filled with immature minds. A multicultural utopia. But hey, if you can make a story out of the rantings of children on social media, you can go far in the new age of journalism. You're moving on up!

Thanks for calling me stupid, too. That made my day. Name-calling and labeling seem to be some of your defining journalism skills. Clear the paths to MSNBC, Arellano is coming. You heard it here first. Soon, he'll be joining the others to proclaim on national TV that "anybody who doesn't believe in X or Y like I do is a raaaaaacist". And I will proudly proclaim that he called me "stupid" on the road to the journalism's high castle of name-calling.

 
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